By Adam Selby-Martin
The question that Marc H Jones poses in The Fireflies of Port Stanley is quite simple, in one way, and yet in another way incredibly complex: what if, in the 1950s, a paperwork error had meant that three obsolete Sherman Firefly tanks had accidentally been shipped to Port Stanley, in the Falkland Islands, where they were stored away until re-discovered on the eve of the Argentinian invasion of those same islands?
In the short term, it simply means that the tiny British garrison on the Falkland Islands has a better chance of repulsing the initial Argentinian landings; and yet by having those three tanks be stationed in a half-forgotten maintenance depot, Mr Jones unleashes a blizzard of butterflies that radically change the outcome of the Falkland Islands conflict, as well as the geopolitical situation in both Argentina and the United Kingdom.
Within the first few chapters of Fireflies, it becomes quite clear that this is not what could be called a ‘balanced’ piece of counter-factual fiction in regards to the consequences of those three tanks being stationed in the Falklands. Their presence, particularly during the initial landing attempts by the Argentinian forces, is sufficient to ensure an almost complete rout of the invaders by the outnumbered and beleaguered defenders, at almost no cost to the British forces.
Whereas in reality, the Argentinian invasion was entirely successful in occupying the Falkland Islands, forcing Britain to send a Task Force to the region to liberate its territory, here the Argentinians never manage to force an occupation or land forces on the islands in any significant numbers. In this regard, the plot of Fireflies almost entirely favours the British; nearly everything the British forces on the Falklands, and the government in London, attempt to do to resolve the situation works in their favour, while the Argentinians suffer loss after loss, with every plan unfolding in the worst possible way, and with often devastating consequences.
If a failed Argentinian invasion had been the sole outcome of this story, or the narrative had been limited purely to the military situation in and around the Falklands, then I wouldn’t be writing this review, and I would not have given it anywhere near the rating that I awarded it on Amazon and Goodreads. Fortunately, Mr Jones has an eye for the wider geopolitical consequences of the Argentinians suffering such a decisive defeat, and it is the latter part of Fireflies that is by far the most interesting, as the authorities in London and Buenos Aires begin to deal with the military and political fallout from the situation. In the ensuing chapters, as both nations attempt to deploy their remaining military and political strength to resolve the crisis in their favour, the tension is effortlessly ratcheted upwards and the author unveils the devastating, yet always realistic, consequences of the conflict. By the end of the title, Mr Jones has painted a picture of a world that is still mostly the same as our reality, and yet in several significant ways radically different, and I for one would be deeply interested in seeing some kind of geopolitical-thriller sequel that explores the world of Fireflies as it stands in that reality’s 2017.
The Fireflies of Port Stanley has a well-written and tightly-plotted narrative, a masterful sense of tension, and a small but well-rounded cast of characters who are sufficiently fleshed out to avoid being two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs. There are also some excellent action scenes, particularly towards the start of the title, and while the counter-factual scenario that develops is clearly biased towards the British in this version of the Falklands conflict, it never veers into outright parody and retains an innate sense of plausibility. As such, and given the distinctly low price for which it can be purchased on Amazon (a mere 99p at time of writing), I can wholeheartedly recommend Fireflies as an excellent and highly enjoyable piece of alternate history fiction.
Adam Selby-Martin also reviews other genres at his blog: The Scifi and Fantasy Reviewer Book Review Blog - Sci-Fi, Cosmic Horror and Alternate History Reviews